Dr. Aten’s primary professional interests focus on the integration of psychological science and theology, with an emphasis on disaster mental health and trauma. Dr. Aten first became involved in applied disaster research and training after moving to South Mississippi just six days before Hurricane Katrina struck. Within a few weeks he became active in studying and joining the church and community response to address the overwhelming spiritual and emotional needs left behind in the wake of the storm. Since that time, through various roles and capacities, he has been active in responses to a number of other disasters, including Hurricanes Rita and Gustav, H1N1 pandemic, 2010 Mississippi Delta and 2011 Alabama Tuscaloosa Tornadoes, Civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Japan Tsunami and Earthquake, and New Zealand and Haiti Earthquakes.
Areas of Expertise (15)
Merit Finalist Award (professional)
Awarded by Mutual of America.
Margaret Gorman Early Career Award (professional)
Awarded by the American Psychological Association's Division 36 (Psychology of Religion).
Indiana State University: Ph.D., Counseling Psychology 2005
Chicago Area Christian Training Consortium: Pre-Doctoral Internship, Clinical Psychology 2005
Indiana State University: M.Sc., Counseling Psychology 2001
Indiana State University: B.Sc., Psychology 1999
- American Psychological Association : Member
- APA Division 36 (Psychology of Religion) : Member
- Christian Association of Psychological Studies : Member
Media Appearances (9)
Three Things Not to Say After the Dallas, MN, and LA Shootings
Psychology Today online
The recent acts of violence and shooting in Dallas, Minnesota, and Louisiana have left our country reeling. You may know someone who was either directly or indirectly affected. When our friends and loved ones are impacted by violence and mass trauma it can leave us feeling helpless, cause us to “freeze” up, or say things we wouldn’t normally say. As a result, we often fall into the trap of relying on platitudes that aren’t helpful and can even be harmful for someone going through a trauma.
Tips for helping a loved one after a tragedy, from a Christian disaster expert
The senseless act of violence in Orlando is the worse mass shooting on U.S. soil. The tragedy has left our country shaken. Some lost family members, friends or co-workers. Others are waiting at the bedsides of loved ones who were injured. Some escaped physical injury but were wounded emotionally....As a disaster psychologist, I have found people often struggle to help those closest to them. You may feel as if you have nothing to offer, but you do — and here are a few practical ways to help.
Don’t offer bumper-sticker theology: Five simple ways to help after the Paris attacks
Although the terrorist attacks in Paris were carried out thousands of miles away, the psychological impact is being felt here on U.S. soil. I have been studying responses to disasters for more than a decade now. When helping trauma survivors, your relationships are more important than anything you could ever say. Here are some basic ways you can help without speaking a word.
Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute Awarded $1.9 Million John Templeton Foundation Grant
Chicago Tribune online
"By studying people going through the significant trauma of natural disasters, we hope to learn how people can navigate the difficulties and struggles in a way that leads to positive psychological and spiritual growth," says Dr. Jamie Aten, HDI founder and co-director, and Dr. Arthur P. Rech and Mrs. Jean May Rech Associate Professor of Psychology. The $1.9 million grant is one of the largest competitive research grants ever received by Wheaton College.
What Kind of Faith Helped People Survive Hurricane Katrina?
Christianity Today online
I’ve spent my career as a psychologist researching connections between faith and disaster resilience. I didn’t set out to be a disaster psychologist. I had planned to build a career studying rural health disparities...
Giving Once to Nepal Relief Is Great. Twice Is Better.
Christianity Today online
More than ten days after the historic April 25 Nepal earthquake, the death toll has surpassed 7,500 and is still rising. But media coverage is already in decline. This is a concern because, like it or not, our giving follows media coverage. Giving money is a key way to help quickly. But the decisions of how, when, and how much to give have never been as complex as they are today due to technology—nor more connected to what we heard, see, and read online...
New Poverty-Fighting Alliance Launches
Christianity Today online
Mergers between humanitarian aid organizations are not uncommon, says Jamie Aten, Ph.D. and founder and co-director of Wheaton College's Humanitarian Disaster Institute. "I think this is going to be a very positive merger," he said. "The work of PartnerAid in Africa compliments nicely the ongoing work that World Relief has going on there. I think a major cornerstone of both organizations has been collaboration."...
How Churches Can Help Without Hurting After Super Typhoon Haiyan
Christianity Today online
Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines as one of most powerful typhoons or hurricane recorded in history. As church leaders and members watch the events of the storm unfold, many are likely asking themselves how they can help...
After Superstorm Sandy, Advice for Churches from the First Christian Disaster Research Center
Christianity Today online
Wheaton College was far from the massive path of Hurricane Sandy, but researchers at the Illinois school's Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) had been monitoring the tropical storm for weeks. Now, the only Christian disaster research center in the United States is ready to help equip affected churches for post-disaster response. Jamie D. Aten, founder and co-director of HDI and chair of Wheaton's psychology department, said the institute—which launched last August—aims to equip churches with resources such as spiritual-care tip sheets and "faithful readiness training" to respond when natural disasters strike...
Event Appearances (1)
How to Start a Disaster Ministry
Disaster Ministry Conference Wheaton, IL.
Academics and Research (3)
- PSYC 701 Foundations of Integration
- PSYC 731 Spirituality I
- PSYC 761-764 Research Lab
- PSYC 893 Advanced Topics in Clinical Psychology: Disaster Mental Health
He is the Founder and Executive Director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, the country’s first faith-based academic disaster research center. He also leads HDI’s Religion/Spirituality and Psychology in Disasters Lab (RAPID Lab).
Most of his research focuses on how people make meaning, relate to God, and grow (spiritually and emotionally) after disasters. He also studies the role of positive psychology in church life amid disasters. More recently, he has begun studying virtues like humility and fortitude in disaster and humanitarian contexts.
His psychology of religion/spirituality and disaster research has been supported by over $6 million in grant funding.
Disaster and humanitarian resources informed by his research have been adopted and utilized by World Relief, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security, Chicago Department of Public Health, and many other organizations around the globe.
Dr. Aten founded the Disaster Ministry Conference (DMC) in 2013. The DMC is a national conference that is quickly turning into a global event.
In addition to speaking at the DMC each year, he is a sought after keynote, plenary, and workshop speaker.
He regularly speaks at conferences, churches, and college campuses across the United States and internationally, such as: The GC2 Summit, University of Cambridge, Georgia State University’s Center for the Study of Stress, Trauma, and Resilience, and Accord Network Disaster Summit.
Examples of some upcoming places where you can find Jamie speaking include: Christian Association for Psychological Studies Convention, Fred Hutch Research Cancer Center, and Evangelical Press Association Convention.
You can watch a brief talk of Jamie sharing lessons on cultivating faith and resilience amidst personal disasters.
According to Ronan and Johnston (2005) the number of people who will experience a disaster will double by 2050 from one billion people to two billion people. Since 1985 there has been an almost 400% increase in global natural disasters (Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, 2007). Researchers managing the global terrorism database report a similar increase in terrorist events over the last decade, with almost 5,000 events annually. Some of the worst disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, Haiti Earthquake, Japan Tsunami, and Philippines Typhoon occurred in the past decade alone. Disasters are becoming more complex, with primary disasters (e.g., earthquake) often triggering secondary disasters (e.g., nuclear meltdown). Research shows that disasters often leave a significant psychological and spiritual “footprint” on affected communities. Thus, the purpose of this article is to introduce readers to empirical research on the psychology of religion/spirituality and disasters as well as to introduce a framework for spiritually oriented disaster psychology.
This study examined demographic and hurricane-related resource loss predictors on God concepts and God control among Hurricane Katrina survivors (N = 142) from Mississippi Gulf Coast communities approximately five months after the storm. The findings from this study of Katrina survivors suggest that significant loss from natural disasters has an impact on one's conception of and beliefs about God. It was found that increased levels of resource loss predicted a more negative conceptual portrayal of God. Greater object resource loss predicted perceptions of less God control over the outcome of events. Further, it was found that the strongest individual predictor of a God concept that was more negative and in less control of event outcomes was the loss of food and water, suggesting the importance of critical resource loss on how one conceives of God. Overall, the findings suggest that, for many people who self-identify as spiritual and /or religious, spiritual resources may be the one explanatory system that is uniquely capable of helping disaster survivors to understand traumatic events, to have a sense of control of such events, and, in the process, to still maintain a healthy picture of one's self.
This study examined associations among resource loss, religiousness (including general religiousness, religious comfort, and religious strain), posttraumatic growth (PTG), and physical and mental health among a sample of Mississippi university students soon after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast in 2005. Resource loss was negatively associated with health, but positively associated with PTG. Religious comfort was associated with positive outcomes, and religious strain was associated with negative outcomes. Religious comfort buffered the negative effects of resource loss on emotional health. Ancillary analyses indicated that associations between resource loss and health were mediated by religious strain. Implications of this research are described for mental health practitioners engaged in disaster recovery work.
Using an action participatory research approach, the authors conducted qualitative interviews with 41 African American clergy 1 year after Hurricane Katrina in severely affected areas of south Mississippi. These interviews revealed how mental health professionals can work with African American clergy and their churches by providing training that targets minority disaster mental health disparities. A 3-tier training model for equipping African American clergy and churches to respond to disasters in hopes of reducing minority disaster mental health disparities is offered. Identified training needs and suggested training delivery formats are discussed. A sample outreach and educational training project designed to equip African American clergy and churches in their response to minority disaster mental health disparities is also highlighted.